There will be growing requirements in the future for arming unmanned aerial vehicles with small, precision-guided weapons to enable the military to operate in a broader range of environments and take on different threats than is permitted by manned aircraft, according to a recently released report by the Pentagon.

The Navy is in the process of arming the unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout. Photo by Northrop Grumman
The Navy is in the process of arming the unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout. Photo by Northrop Grumman

The report says the Pentagon will expand options for deploying weapons by unmanned systems and integrating existing munitions onto a wider range of platforms, and noted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved the value of armed drones, adding they be increasingly important as the military shifts greater attention to the Asia-Pacific region.

“The increased use of unmanned systems as weapons delivery platforms has been a significant step in the integration of unmanned systems in the battlespace,” the lengthy report said. “Unmanned systems can be used in significantly different operating and threat conditions than manned platforms, come in a much wider range of classes and sizes than manned systems, can exhibit greater persistence and endurance than manned systems, and have the potential to support a large range of mission sets.”

The 168-page report outlines the Pentagon’s unmanned systems strategy over the next 25 years and is called the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY 2013-2038. It was approved by the under secretary of defense for acquisition, Frank Kendall, and Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The tight budget environment will constrain spending on unmanned systems in the years ahead, but defense officials plan to invest $23.8 billion in unmanned systems from the current fiscal into fiscal 2018, the report said. For research and development and procurement, the report said Pentagon’s spending in fiscal 2014 that began Oct. 1 will drop by one-third from fiscal 2013 levels.

The Pentagon already has armed drones, such as the Air Force’s Predator and Reaper equipped with Hellfire missiles. The Navy is in the process of arming the MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, which is a laser-guided rocket designed for surgical strike. The Air Force is also buying the Switchblade system, a small UAV that launches from a tube, carries a munitions and can be flown directly into a target.

The report said additional and existing weapons that could potentially be added to UAVs include the Laser Homing Attack or Anti-Tank Missile (LAHAT), or the laser guided SPIKE, which was designed for Navy and Marine Corps special operations forces. The Hydra-70 rocket also has potential and was successful tested in 2005 while deployed on rotary-wing UAV, the report said.

The report said increasingly capable intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities coupled with advanced network centric warfare and command and control capabilities all contribute and gain from the arming of drones.